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Select Committees in United Kingdom

Select committees Meaning, as used in the UK Parliament

Select committees are small groups of Members of the Parliament or members of the House of Lords that are set up to investigate a specific issue in detail or to perform a specific scrutiny role. They may call in officials and experts for questioning and can demand information from the government. Select committees publish their findings in a report and the government is expected to respond to any recommendations that are made.


In the British Parliament, two sorts of committees began to evolve in the sixteenth century: small committees composed of no more than 15 members known as “select committees”, and large committees whose membership numbered between 30 and 40 called “standing committees”.[1] Bills were often considered in detail in select committees and only members appointed to these committees were allowed to participate. In contrast, it became common in standing committees to allow whoever attended to speak. These standing committees eventually evolved into “general” or “grand” committees comprising as many members as the House itself. During the reigns of James I (1603‑25) and Charles I (1625‑49), they became known as Committees of the Whole.[2]

These committees were established as forums for discussing bills of great interest[3] and provided Members with the opportunity to speak to a question as often as they wanted.[4] A further reason for considering bills in this forum was the greater freedom of debate secured by the removal of the “constraining presence of the Speaker, who was at this period expected to look after the interests of the King”.[5] By the beginning of the eighteenth century, it had become common to refer all bills to grand committees for detailed discussion following second reading.[6] This development proved to be an efficient method of discussing matters of detail and, in the latter half of the century, for the House to establish its control over financial matters.[7]

Source: (Canada) House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, 2009


See Also

  • Scrutiny
  • Parliament


  1. Standing committees in Britain should not be confused with the standing committees in the Canadian House of Commons today, which are similar in size to the British “select committees”.
  2. Bourinot, Sir J.G., Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada, 4th ed., edited by T.B. Flint, Toronto: Canada Law Book Company, 1916, pp. 391‑2. The earliest references to general committees and grand committees comprising the total membership of the House can be found during the reign of Elizabeth I (Wilding and Laundy, 4th ed., p. 152).
  3. For example, bills imposing a tax or involving constitutional issues were frequent in Parliaments during the Stuart monarchy.
  4. Redlich, J., The Procedure of the House of Commons: A Study of its History and Present Form, Vol. II, translated by A.E. Steinthal, New York: AMS Press, 1969 (reprint of 1908 ed.), p. 208.
  5. Campion, G.F.M., An Introduction to the Procedure of the House of Commons, 3rd ed., London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1958, p. 27. See also Griffith, J.A.G. and Ryle, M., Parliament: Functions, Practice and Procedures, 2nd ed., edited by R. Blackburn and A. Kennon with Sir M. Wheeler-Booth, London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2003, p. 384.
  6. Redlich, Vol. II, p. 210.
  7. Campion, 3rd ed., pp. 28‑9.

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  • Article Name: Select Committees
  • Author: David Jane
  • Description: Select committees Meaning, as used in the UK Parliament Select committees are small groups of Members of the Parliament or [...]

This entry was last updated: July 8, 2017



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